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burning-doc-britishBy CPI

We are reproducing excerpts from two recent articles in The Guardian exposing attempts by the departing British government to cover up embarrassing state crimes carried out during the final years of its empire, including in colonial Malaya.

The newspaper reports concern the discovery of sequestered records that have put the British colonial authorities in a scandalous and shameful light. These include records on the conduct of the war against the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), and the involvement of British troops and police in various atrocities and abuses, including the Batang Kali massacre.

More interestingly, these revealing records acknowledge the nationalist and anti-colonial nature of the insurgency carried out by the MCP. Meanwhile other damning records had been purposely scrubbed or destroyed so that it might appear as if Her Majesty’s Government had scrupulously kept her hands clean and ethical standards unsullied during the days when Britannia ruled the waves.

The newly unearthed papers await the attention of a new generation of Malaysian scholars and researchers despite the shocking scale of the operation to purge the colonial files, and the extent of the British Foreign Office’s deliberate erasure of history.

The Guardian a couple of days ago revealed how an official review found that “thousands of papers detailing shameful acts were culled, while others were kept secret illegally”.

The newspaper reported the conclusion of an official review that thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments in 37 former British colonies.

A group of Kenyans who had been detained and allegedly tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion had previously won the right to sue the British government, following which the Foreign Office was compelled to release the 8,800 files it held in its secret vaults.

The first of these files were made available to the British public on Wednesday at the National Archive at Kew, Surrey with the remainder expected to be transferred by the end of 2013.

“The papers at Hanslope Park [where the Foreign Office its secret archive] include monthly intelligence reports on the ‘elimination’ of the colonial authority's enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of Aman said to have been ‘roasted alive’; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

“However, among the documents are a handful which show that many of the most sensitive papers from Britain's late colonial era were not hidden away, but simply destroyed. These papers give the instructions for systematic destruction issued in 1961 after Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies, directed that post-independence governments should not get any material that ‘might embarrass Her Majesty’s government’, that could ‘embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers’, that might compromise intelligence sources, or that might ‘be used unethically by ministers in the successor government’.”

See article Britain destroyed records of colonial crime’ (18 April 2012)

Not only were sensitive documents disposed of, there was also the instruction to the departing British diplomats and officers that when such documents were burned, “the waste should be reduced to ash and the ashes broken up”.

This information on the emphasis placed upon the destruction of the files is gleaned from a handful of instruction documents that survived the culling.

The Guardian also reported that documents which survive from Malaya “suggest a far more haphazard destruction process, with relatively junior officials being permitted to decide what should be burned and what should be sent to London” on the eve of decolonisation.

The missing Batang Kali papers

A preceding article in the newspaper on Tuesday (April 17) is headlined Colonial Office files detail “eliminations” to choke Malayan insurgencyand exposes Britain’s favoured method of targeted assassination.


“The ‘elimination of ranking terrorists’ was a repeated theme in secret monthly reports on casualty figures circulated by the director of intelligence in British-controlled Malaya during the 1950s.

“Long-lost files from the Emergency period, when insurgents attempted to drive out colonial occupiers, reveal how the protracted jungle war was fought to drive communist groups into submission and deprive them of food and support.

“The first tranche of documents belatedly transferred from the Foreign Office depository in Hanslope park, near Milton Keynes, to the National Archives in Kew, show how British officials in Kuala Lumpur interpreted virtually all anti-colonial protests as evidence of a planned communist takeover.

“But many potentially embarrassing documents, including probably some of those relating to the alleged 1948 massacre by Scots Guards of 24 villagers in Batang Kali, appear to be missing.

“These missing papers could have been among scores of files listed for destruction in the colony's final months.

“A compensation claim by relatives and survivors of the killings – described by some as the ‘British My Lai massacre’, after the US troop killings in Vietnam – is due to come to trial in London in May.

“Among documents that survived the transfer are reports issued monthly from the director of intelligence in the Federation of Malaya.

“ ‘The last month of 1956 brought a total of 41 eliminations of terrorists, which is average for the year,’ the director, G. C. Madoc, noted. ‘During the year, 287 terrorists were killed, 52 were captured and 134 surrendered. The [communist] politburo policy of avoiding contacts and conserving terrorist strength remains in force.’

“Madoc added: "In spite of the considerable difficulties of creating underground control organisations from the jungle, it is known that the MCP [Malayan Communist party] is striving continuously to implement directives on subversion in town and villages …

"Hence the need to maintain constant watch over the gullible and ambitious opponents [of] the existing regime who are natural and probably unconscious targets for subtle forms of subversion."

“Casualty tables written for December 1956 record: ‘Ranking terrorists eliminated – 8.’ The phrase "eliminated" is used repeatedly to describe the killing of insurgents. In January the following year, Madoc recorded: ‘In Selangor a small but important success was achieved when the whole of the Ampang branch, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, was eliminated.’

“In March 1957, less than six months before the colony's formal independence, a monthly intelligence assessment observed: ‘By the standards of the last year the number of terrorist eliminations may be considered satisfactory’.”

There is much to learn from these boxes of Top Secret files that have only now come to light due to the Kenyan lawsuit. The process of culling and purging the record practised in other colonies besides Kenya was one that deliberately sought to remove incriminating evidence.

Here is a chance for Malaysians to sift through and determine what really happened in our recent history that has oft been the victim of official propaganda.

This evident distortion of reality was not only carried out by our former colonial master but also acquiesced by the Alliance government that Britain cultivated, nurtured and felt to be a safe enough pair of hands to which to pass the baton.